Enter the Dragon…
Let me firstly point out that Awakening is not simply another piece of tacked on, after thought DLC, designed to empty your pockets and blacken your soul. No, Awakening is 25 hours of full-scale new content, which picks up the story of the original however you may have left it. Awakening then, is essentially an entirely new game. With new settings, a new group of companions as well as the return of some old friends, new skills, spells and abilities as well as a new story, which while shorter than the Origins plot, is just as succinct and satisfying. Said plot begins with your Warden being attacked by Darkspawn, some time after the events of the Origins story line comes to an end. This is somewhat strange considering the 100+ hours you may have spent in the main game making sure that the Darkspawn were eradicated and this sort of thing wouldn’t happen again. While the Awakenings story focuses on why the Darkspawn remain after the Archdemon has been slain, it does feel like a kick in the teeth to know your enormous efforts in Origins were for seemingly nothing. Get past this however, and it becomes apparent that all is not well in the Deeproads – not only are the Darkspawn not retreating, but their attacks seem more coordinated, more deliberate. Further more, there are hints at two separate Darkspawn factions, and most disturbingly, some have even been heard to speak. As is customary from any RPG expansion pack, a whole host of new abilities, spells, buffs and skills have been shoe horned into Awakening. Whether you decide to create an entirely new character or continue the adventure with your Warden from Origins, you will begin at a respectable level 21 and face a whole new level cap for you to battle towards. As well as the raft of new abilities etc, each class has been upgraded with two new specializations, as well as a third available if you wish after you reach level 22. On top of this, there are new class-specific talents, and other abilities now have up to four new talents. While the addition of so many new talents can only be a good thing, as a Mage, I got the distinct feeling of bias towards melee warrior type characters – sure, a few new area of effect spells are great, thanks, but they don’t seem as inventive as some of the new talents offered to heavy weapon characters for example. Despite this, the new abilities (regardless of class) certainly added a new, and refreshing dimension to game play, and more times than I care to mention the new abilities rescued me from certain destruction at the hands of a blood-crazed dark spawn. The new sets of attacks, buffs, spells and talents make combat much more interesting, letting you choose from a vast array of abilities rather than spamming the two or three that get you through. And of course, there’s the satisfaction of being a high-powered crew capable of some really splendid tactics. Further new additions, such as the excellent runecrafting – in which the player can create special abilities for weapons and armour – seem as though they had always been present in the game, and certainly not forced in as an after thought. In reality, there are an awful lot of new things available to you to play with.
Those Darkspawn simply don’t stand a chance
Everything in this game has been shown the same love and caring attention as the original Origins game. Each new companion has a detailed and rich background, as well as some of the best banter in a game ever as you go about your adventuring duties. Sometimes the dialogue is witty, funny and heartfelt, and other times it is dark, brooding and dangerous. Locations across the map, from the grandest cities to the lowliest villages ooze design and thought. Nothing here has been rushed. When compared to Origins, Awakening is clearly better finished than its predecessor – edges have been smoothed, lip syncing problems have been fixed, bugs have been patched and most importantly the difficulty levels have been properly defined. Unlike the original, Easy is a walk in the park while Nightmare is a son-of-a-bitch blood bath if you aren’t careful. Just how it should have always been. Awakenings however isn’t without its problems. Despite a new story, and all the new talents and spells that it has to offer, there just isn’t anything new to truly set it apart from Origins. Unlike DLC, which defines itself as being simply an add on to the original game, Awakening tries to compete with the big boys as a stand alone game and simply falls flat. Don’t get me wrong, while a quarter of the size of Origins, Awakening is still absolutely huge. At around 25 hours of gameplay, your £20 is buying you a game three times as long as some games twice the price, and is every bit as rich and involved as the original. However don’t fool yourself into thinking that Awakening is Dragon Age 2 – because it simply isn’t. Further more, the moral choices that you must make feel no more than a slight hindrance to your game – while the Origins choices had real gravity to them, more often than not in Awakening, you can worm your way out of any moral dilemma using the right combinations of coercion and sneaky tactics. If however, you find yourself suffering from Ferelden withdrawl symptoms and can only satisfy yourself by setting off on a new Darkspawn riddled adventure, Awakenings is a fine addition to your collection. With a new campaign and plenty of new abilities to try out, those Darkspawn simply don’t stand a chance.